“There is nothing wrong with this house that can’t be fixed.”
Being a young, inexperienced home buyer, these words were soothing to hear from the home inspector.
What I didn’t realize was that fixing everything would take all my time and all my money.
It was April 1st 2002. Closing on April Fool’s Day should have been all the sign I needed. I bought what was called a “Fixer Upper” back then. Now we seem to have shortened it to just “Fixer.” This was before HGTV, but I had the same aspirations as the home buyers always do at the beginning of the renovation shows.
My house had T-111 siding, which is like grooved plywood and lasts for about 30 years if maintained. My house was 29 years old. And it hadn’t been maintained.
It had the old crank out Pella replacement windows. The kind that after about 20 years, you one day crank to open and the aluminum mechanism inside snaps. That day had happened on all the windows long before I had ever seen the house.
The roof had two layers on it. On a positive note, the HVAC was only 2 years old.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the house had a lot of settlement. That is a nice way of saying STRUCTURAL ISSUES. The seller gave me an $8k credit for putting piers under the foundation. The structural engineer (A.K.A.-SALES PERSON) told me the house needed 20 of them. They were $1k each. I told him there was no way I could do that since I only had $8k to work with. Suddenly, he decided that 8 piers would be just fine.
I got what I thought was a bargain. I paid $118,200 and other similar houses were going for $145-150k on the street.
The evening of April 1st, after moving in all day and getting the boy’s beds set up, I decided to take a shower. As the steam from the shower filled the bathroom, the pea green tiles in the shower slowly started to fall off the wall. Many had been glued on to what little drywall was left behind them. It kind of looked like a pizza commercial where the cheese is stretching as somebody pulls out a slice. The shower had some goofy accent tile that must have been trendy in 1973. I keep the tile that is pictured below in my office.
Then there was the time we had family over. I slept on the couch in the basement. I woke up, ready for my first cup of coffee. I knew it wasn’t going to be a good day when I heard a splashing sound and my left foot felt wet. Turns out the basement leaked too. The seller said they had never had a water problem, although all the neighbors knew otherwise.
But I got a great deal, and there was nothing wrong with the house that couldn’t be fixed.
Oh yeah, now that I am a realtor, I realize that all the other bidders I was up against for this house were investors who were probably offering no more than $90k and wanting to flip it.
So, over the course of several years, I gutted all 3 bathrooms and remodeled them. New roof. Some new windows. New siding. Added a fireplace. Completely gutted the basement since it was wet and moldy. With some help from my dad and uncle, we turned 2 paneled rooms into one massive space with all new drywall, can lights, new electric and all new trim.
To solve the water issue, I had the leafguard gutters installed, the basement waterproofed with two sump pumps and brought in 3 dump trucks full of dirt and regraded the back and side yard. Now the house next door gets water in their basement. I didn’t feel too bad though. If the builder had graded my yard properly, he would have been getting the water for 30 years. It was his turn now.
I have always hated this house. It is sort of funny that I still own it. We moved out in 2007 and I’ve been renting it ever since. Part of that is because houses were not selling back then. Part of it is because after doing all this work to it, I wanted to be the one who benefited from it.
This house was sort of like real estate college for me. I am a much better realtor having having had these heartbreaking, time consuming and costly experiences. Having had a house that had just about every problem a house can have and fixing it all has benefited every client I have ever worked with.
And I will never recommend a home inspector who says “There isn’t anything wrong with this house that can’t be fixed.”
Before and after (Circa 2008):